Is It Safe to Eat Expired Foods?

We’ve all been there. You open up you fridge to grab a snack and you realize the food you want is past its expiration date. You start to wonder if it is worth the risk to eat it, or if you should just make the trip to the store to restock. These are valid questions and ones you should ask. The dates listed on perishable and non-perishable foods have various meanings and it is important to know the difference. It helps to determine what expired food really means.

What are the Different Types Food Expiration Dates?

Use this list of the different ‘expired’ food dates as a general guide when looking through your fridge and pantry:

  • Pack Date will typically refer to the date the packaged food (i.e. canned food) was sealed.
  • Sell-By Date is a store-based date indicating how long the product should be on the shelf. It tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • Best If Used By Date is directly linked to flavor and quality of the product and not safety. The manufacturer determines it.
  • Guaranteed Fresh By usually refers to the freshness of baked goods.

These expiration dates are often referencing the quality and freshness of the product.

Can I Eat Foods Past the Expiration Date?

According to the USDA the following general guidelines apply for properly refrigerated foods:

  • Eggs can be stored for 3-5 weeks
  • Poultry and sausage can be stored for 1-2 days
  • Beef, veal and pork can be stored for 3-5 days

There are many other recommended storage times for foods available but as a rule of thumb, it is recommended that you use common sense when determining whether the food should be disposed of or eaten based on the ‘expired food date’. The common sense approach can include using your sense of smell, sight, or touch. Do not eat any food that smells unnaturally bad, looks discolored, or feels slimy. If you are unsure, go by the use-by date if available.

In summary, the ‘expiration date’ listed on your food products is referring to its freshness and quality, and not necessarily its safety. If possible, buy fresh foods regularly and do not keep too much food in your house at one time. Always look at the dates on the food when buying it to ensure you are purchasing the freshest product. Remember, if it looks, smells or feels odd – just don’t eat it and throw it away.


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